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Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2008
Format: DVD
On February 20, 2005, the end of an era was blown out not with a whisper but with a bang. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson chose that day to end his own life by committing suicide with one of the many guns he owned. It was a loss for a generation that grew up reading him in Rolling Stone Magazine, a loss for fans and a loss for journalism.

While two films (WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS) were made about his life, it is only now that Hunter reaches the screen in his own words, in his own actions via the newly released documentary GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON. And what a treat it is to see and hear him speak for himself.

The film looks back at the entire life of this maverick that changed the face of journalism by making it not just about looking at issues from the outside in, but from the inside out. Gonzo journalism often placed the writer into the scene of what was being written about since that writer was actually there. Gonzo journalists write as participants as opposed to voyeurs. And Hunter was a definite participant.

The film begins with his youth covering the usual biopic necessities of what possibly made him choose the direction he did. But it moves forward to his youth when he chose to be a writer and pursue that dream. Not only did he pursue it, he got involved in it.

The first break Hunter found was when he commingled with the motorcycle gang the Hells Angels to find out just what they were all about. The pieces he put together on the gang were wrapped up into a book titled HELLS ANGELS that was considered the quintessential source of information on gangs. A falling out with the gang led to Hunter's moving on to another topic.

Those topics were wide in range but always confronted with the brutal honesty as seen through the eyes of Thompson. Be it the Democratic convention in Chicago where the peace and love generation was beaten down by those in power or the great American dream demolished in his eyes as the city of Las Vegas, Hunter took typewriter ink to paper and using wit and a skewered sense of words defined the world for his generation.

Hunter's involvement in politics is shown ranging from his own run as sheriff of Aspen to his following the campaign trail in 1972 elections. Having been alive to witness the end of an era with the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Hunter found hope in the form of George McGovern. But that was never to be.

But all things change. And this is where the truly sad part of the story of Hunter S. Thompson slopes downward. The involvement with drugs and alcohol combined with the glory brought on by celebrity status took its toll on Thompson. No longer able to blend in without being recognized his ability to cover a story changed as did his life.

The movie is an examination of a writer whose works are still read today. The director uses interviews with people who knew Hunter intimately like his wives, son and business partner to those who got to know him while he covered their stories. Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels, Ralph Steadman, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and more all find screen time discussing this amazing author. Each has their own personal vision of who Hunter was and how he affected them.

What we are left with is the story of a man who wanted to change the world only to have the world change him. In some ways for the better, but not always. The words of Thompson describing flying bats and lizard people during hallucinogenic experiences were perhaps nowhere near as frightening as the real life demons he confronted as his life changed. Perhaps it was one of those demons that urged him on to commit the final deed of his life.

What one walks away with after watching this film is perhaps a little more understanding of the man. Perhaps you walk away with an interest in finding those items that he wrote. But more than anything you walk away with a feeling of loss at never having appreciated him to his full extent while he was here with us. A dynamite film that informs, entertains and shines a light on a true talent.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
"Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" is an overview of the life and passions of Hunter S. Thompson, inventor of "gonzo" journalism and iconic hero of liberalism -at least for those liberals who didn't mind all the guns. Through interviews with an impressive variety of Thompson's friends and associates, narration by Johnny Depp, and archival footage of Thompson himself, director Alex Gibney takes us through Thompson's life, concentrating on his career and image. The story starts in earnest in 1965, when Thompson was "imbedded" with the Hell's Angels for over a year, his first exercise in participatory journalism and the subject of his first book, "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" (1966).

That's followed by Thompson's experience of the 1968 Democratic Convention, his bid for Sheriff of Aspen on a pro-marijuana platform in 1970, the story behind "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", and his work for "Rolling Stone" magazine, including his coverage of the McGovern-Nixon presidential campaign, which became "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail `72", and finally his suicide in 2005. The film doesn't attempt to be a comprehensive biography. Thompson's years in the Air Force are not even mentioned, for example. I was pleasantly surprised by the array of people who consented to be interviewed: his first wife Sondi Wright (Sandy Thompson at the time), Tom Wolfe, former President Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Pat Buchanan, "Rolling Stone" co-founder Jan Wenner, Jimmy Buffett, Thompson's frequent collaborator the artist Ralph Steadman, among others.

Alex Gibney is conventional in his approach to his unconventional subject. He doesn't criticize Thompson as much as he might or glorify him as much as fans sometimes do. This attempt at objectivity makes "Gonzo" a good introduction to Hunter S. Thompson but also a bit bland. Ralph Steadman's art work is used liberally throughout the film, which is great. And there is some attempt to convey Thompson's eventual frustration with the public persona that he had fostered. Though "Gonzo" isn't a fawning look at the man, it is a fond look. Thompson's rejection of the sham of objectivity in journalism may be admirable, he was a man who liked to scrutinize other people's ethics much more than his own. "Gonzo" leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about things like that. At times I wished that it were more incisive, but there is a lot of interesting material here.

The DVD (Magnolia 2008): Bonus features include 5 deleted scenes, 19 extended interviews, a gallery of 75 drawings by Ralph Steadman, 8 Photo Galleries, including old photos, pages from Thompson's notebooks, and other memorabilia, a list of 18 of Hunter's Guns, a tribute performance of "Wayward and Weary" by Tift Merritt (4 min), 2 audio excerpts from "The Gonzo Tapes" of Thompson and Oscar Acosta in Las Vegas 1971, and a feature commentary by director Alex Gibney. Gibney takes us through the when, where, and what we see in the film, providing some additional understanding of the footage, and he offers comments on Thompson. Subtitles are available for the film in Spanish.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 4, 2008
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I've been intrigued by HST ever since I was a kid growing up in Evergreen, Colorado in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Word of the "Freak Ticket" and its mighty and outrageous leader made its way over the mountains from Aspen and astonished all of us. His audacity echoed in those mountains (and still does to this day). I also recall perusing those famous issues of Rolling Stone at the Walgreen's magazine counter where HST told-tale of all his intrepid investigations, and where sinister evil seemed to lurk around every dark corner. And my appreciation for his unique approach to things has grown as I've matured. I see him as a patriot, and as a courageous one at that. It takes courage to tell the truth about things--or something close to the truth, but conveyed in a very interesting way--especially when there are lots of powerful forces out there praying for your demise, and maybe even plotting it.

I haven't read everything HST wrote, but I've read most of it, and I've read a biography or two as well. I was delighted when I heard about this documentary, and I rented it off of Netflix the moment it was listed. And, yes, I'll probably end up buying it for my library of 1960's retrospectives. I'm absolutely fascinated by everything that happened in the US--and the world as well--between 1965 and 1975. It was an amazingly vital and dynamic period of our history, and will probably never again be matched during my life or the life of my children. HST was a major player in several of those realms from that period.

But, on the whole, this documentary seemed a little flat to me. I was vaguely confused from time to time. It seemed lacking in continuity. For example, they discuss the Ali/Frazer fight in Africa in the early 1970's--which HST buoycotted because he thought Ali was going to be destroyed; so, instead of going to the fight, HST took a swim--and then the next phase shows HST in the late 1990's or early 2000's--swollen, belligerent, dysfunctional, bizarre. They omitted almost everything relating to the three decade time-frame in between. Those decades were his decades of decline; I would have liked to know the particulars of why and how.

I was frequently distracted by trying to figure out where and when a given episode occured. The presentation was definitely not a chronological presentation, and so the viewer has to establish their own time line of events. It was repeatedly difficult to place the descriptions of disparate developments into any type of exacting, fluid context. The film needed a voice-over narrator to provide segue continuity and to make for a comprehensive, smooth examination of the man and his event-rich life. Instead, we get this varied, slightly jagged, series of interviews where sometimes extremely significant events are mentioned, almost in passing. I found myself developing more questions as the film went along rather than getting answers. I looked HST up on Wikipedia this morning, and there were dozens of interesting features to this man's career which were not even alluded to in this documentary--major gaps relating to essential aspects of his life story. (Example: his falling out with Jann Wenner and aborted assignments to Vietnam and elsewhere.)

True, I'm grateful to have seen the great footage, much of which I had never seen before. And the interviews with Jann Wenner,Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, HST's wives, and McGovern and some of the others did provide some salient insights. But my curiosity continued to grow rather than to be sated. I would have liked to hear recollections from Johnny Depp, and Bill Murray, two friends who I'm sure could have offered a lot, and I would have liked to have heard more from HST's son, who seems like an articulate and amazingly normal man.

HST was a blemished figure, and probably he is more myth than reality when all is said and done. I recall seeing him on a late night talk show (Leno, I think) in the early 2000's. HST was thoroughly drunk and slurred every word. He was a bloated mess, and, essentially, he was already dead. But, for that magical decade or so, few people burned brighter and more intensely than Hunter S. Thompson. His unique combination of anger and humor is something which will be hard to match, and he is definitely one of the colorful characters from the century which we have just left behind.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2008
Format: DVD
If you are a fan of Hunter S. Thompson you will love this movie.

The archival footage is extraordinary,and the interviews are great. Johnny Depp does top notch narration as Hunter.

By the end of this movie, you really get a feel for the man that was Hunter S. Thompson. This was a very deep and moving experience.

Even the soundtrack is flawless!(CCR, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, etc...)

The special features are also superb, with commentary, a music video,audio excerpts,extended interviews,deleted scenes, all the "gonzo" art,and even a photo gallery, plus more.

If you like Hunter, then this is a no-brainer purchase.

I plan to also buy the soundtrack,audio tapes,and books.

Happy "Gonzo" watching.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2009
Format: DVD
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson: 6 out of 10: Is Hunter S Thompson any more relevant to modern journalism than Joe Namath is to modern football? After all, both were men of their times. In addition, both faded badly by the mid-seventies. Thompson's early work is excellent (a copy of "The Proud Highway" sits on my bookshelf) and reached its pinnacle with Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.

A mere three years later Rolling Stone publisher Jenn Warner had become so fed up with Thompson he basically tried to have him killed.

As [...] puts it "Then, early one evening in March 1975, Hunter was watching a nightmarish film of the evacuation of Da Nang on the evening news. The phone rang, and Hunter picked it up. It was Wenner, saying, "How would you like to go to Vietnam?" Hunter could not resist. The collapse of the American empire was a happening tailor-made for his talents. Within days, he was heading out over the Pacific. He arrived in Saigon hours after Thieu's palace had been bombed and staffed by his own Air Force. For a man who lived with the conviction that the world was going to end next Monday, this was an especially ominous portent. Thompson had the sense of "walking into a death camp." This was it. He would never get out alive. As it turned out, the fate that was in store for him was even worse. Thompson discovered that, even as he was on his way to Vietnam, Wenner had taken him off retainer - in effect, fired him - and with the retainer went his staff benefits, including health and life insurance." Also leaving him no way out of Vietnam... a one-way ticket if you will.

Dude that is cold...

And that is the very nature of the problem with this documentary. Why is not this story mentioned? Who knows? It certainly was a turning point in Thompsons life (He apparently became more withdrawn and paranoid afterwards... understandably so)

Gonzo is a pollyanna look at Thompson. The abuse of his first marriage gets a glancing look and all the interviewees (Including Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan and Jenn Werner) seem hesitant to speak ill of the dead.

The fact that in a few short years Thompson turned from a well-respected writer into a Muppet and Doonesbury cartoon is not covered well. The fact is mentioned but the reasons are glossed over. It is as if the film is worried that by mentioning his failures it will reduce his significance.

Yet, I would argue that Thompson's effect on Journalism is larger than he gets credit for. Reporters nowadays often ignore facts, concentrating instead on how events make them feel. Anderson Cooper crying during the Hurricane Katrina coverage threatened to become a bigger story than the storm itself. (He was not helped when fellow Mensa candidate Wolf Blitzer said "You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals'many of these people, almost all of them that we see are so poor and they are so black")

The documentary never really focuses on this aspect either. Gonzo seems to fear pulling back any of the masks its subject wears presumably scared of what it might find. Gonzo would have been better served concentrating on one period of time and focusing its energies.

That said, for those unfamiliar with Hunter S Thompson outside of his Muppet form this is a good start. Moreover, if it gets people to read his early work so much the better.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2009
Format: DVD
I became a fan of Hunter S. Thompson the day I opened up the latest issue of Rolling Stone and began reading the first installment of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", and continued to be a fan for the rest of his life, in spite of the decline in his writing (which began, as far as I was concerned, as early as "The Curse of Lono"), so I approached this film with great interest and excitement. And much like Thompson's work, I found parts of it to be highly entertaining while other parts were almost unbearable. For me, the best stuff was the achival film footage of Thompson at work and play, being interviewed, campaigning for sheriff, etc. The worst stuff was Johnny Depp reading Thompson's writing: the written word doesn't always work so well when read aloud, and Depp's almost somnambulant recitation shines a glaring light on just how stylized and contrived Thompson's words could be. What worked PERFECTLY on the page falls flat on its face when uttered aloud (a big problem for me with the film version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" as well). Another shortcoming of the film was the director's tendency to devote too much time to the events Thompson was writing about: there are parts of the film that made me feel like I was watching a documentary on the History Channel about something other than HST. It also seems that 85% of the movie was devoted to about ten years of Thompson's life ('65-'75), and although this was undoubtedly the most important part of his life as a writer and activist, it still seems ridiculously lopsided (the director addresses this issue in his commentary). The best moments here are absolutely 5-star material, but there's a fair bit of stuff that I could have done without. The special features section has some excellent additional film as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2008
Format: DVD
The late great Hunter S. Thompson was a mass of walking contradictions, someone who will likely always remain a bit of a cipher. He was a writer whose work was imbued with DFH political idealism and tempered by a full personal commitment to the hedonistic enjoyment of sex, drugs and rock `n' roll; yet he loved to collect guns, watch stuff blow up and counted the likes of Pat Buchanan among his personal friends. I don't envy a biographer in any medium such a daunting task.

In Gonzo: the Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson, director Alex Gibney(Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room) may have discovered the right formula. He takes an approach as scattershot and unpredictable as the subject himself and runs with it, utilizing a frenetic pastiche of talking heads, vintage home movies, feature film clips, animation, rare audio tapes and snippets of prose (voiced by Johnny Depp, who has become Thompson's theatrical avatar, like Hal Holbrook's synonymous identity with Mark Twain). While Gibney keeps the timeline fairly linear, he does make interesting choices along the way-and equally interesting omissions (e.g., Thompson's formative years are given the bum's rush).

Gibney ostensibly begins his film with an examination of the 1966 book Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, which first established Thompson's groundbreaking style of method journalism. An overview of his Rolling Stone reportage ensues, highlighted by the assignment that resulted in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

A lion's share of the film is devoted to two chapters of Thompson's life: his quasi-serious run for sheriff (!) of Aspen Colorado and his coverage of the 1972 presidential elections (recounted in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72). In fact, the segment regarding the 1972 campaign is nearly a stand-alone "film within the film"; it's such a riveting and well-crafted piece that I wished Gibney had expounded even further and turned it into a full-length companion documentary. Gibney also reminds us of something largely forgotten,yet significant-the fact that Thompson was instrumental in bringing then-governor Jimmy Carter into the national political spotlight back in 1974, by championing his amazing Law Day Speech.

Consequently, I think political junkies are going to dig this film a lot more than the fans who remain solely enamored with Hunter S. Thompson's more superficial, substance-fueled "rebel" persona. Excepting the depiction of Thompson's relatively unproductive latter years, which were spent ensconced in his Colorado compound, too distracted by guns, drugs and sycophants to do little else but slowly disappear up his own legend (like Elvis at Graceland) the director admirably suppresses the urge to play up the public notoriety and revel in the writer's recreational excesses.

The film is not without its flaws; the frequent use of Depp clips from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas becomes distracting and begins to feel like cheating (by contrast, there is only one brief nod to Bill Murray's turn in Where the Buffalo Roam.) This is a minor quibble, because there are some real treasures here as well. Devotees will delight in listening to the audio snippets from the original cassettes that Thompson made while cruising through the Nevada desert with his attorney (the DVD features additional excerpts as an extra).

This is certainly no sugar-coated puff piece; there are several ex-wives and associates aboard who make no bones about reminding us that the man could be a real tool. On the other hand, examples of his genuine humanity and idealism are brought to the fore as well, making for an insightful and fairly balanced overview of his dichotomous nature. What the director does not forget is that, at the end of the day, HST was the most unique American political commentator/ social observer who ever sat down to peck at a bullet-riddled typewriter. We could sure use him now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 29, 2008
Format: DVD
...because this is really a 3.5 star film to me, but I rounded it up to 4 since they don't offer half star increments.

The film succeeds--despite itself--primarily on the strength of the raw material (i.e. Thompson himself and his story) and Johnny Depp's narration, the arrangement of which was a masterstroke on the part of the producers.

The film is, however, rife with issues that annoyed me and kept from from fully enjoying it.

A. It is about 15-20 minutes too long. Far too many times I found myself looking at the counter to see how far it had gone.
B. It gets too cute by half in many instances with animation, reenactments, music, and graphics. Call me old fashioned, but I don't like the "MTV Style" or "ADHD Style" of filmmaking here. To me, if the story is compelling and the editing is done well, there is no need for these effects. See Errol Morris' work for an example of what I mean by this.
C. It tries to be "avant-garde" by never telling us who is being interviewed. Again, call me old fashioned, but I want to know who is speaking when they appear on camera.
D. After all is said is done, it does not present much in the way of new info for even casual Thompson fans such as myself already generally familiar with his life and work.

I would not have watched this if not for the excellent reviews from Ebert and other prominent and trustworthy critics, and in this case I guess they saw something I didn't. Hey, it happens sometimes. Anyway, this is about a 7/10 for me again on the strength of the material itself and the brilliant choice of Depp for narrator which was awesome, and I say that as someone who really isn't a fan of Depp at all. He was perfect for this role, however.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2012
Format: DVD
This is a warts-and-all documentary of one of the most important American journalists of the twentieth century. Well worth a look. Hunter's writings are spoken by Johnny Depp.

On Election Night 1972 when George McGovern went down to defeat at the hands of Dick Nixon, Hunter Thompson was also a man defeated - bitterly so. Here is how he concluded his book on the '72 Campaign:

"The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and all his imprecise talk about 'new politics' and 'honesty in government' is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon."

On February 20, 2005, at his home in Woody Creek, Colorado, Hunter Thompson pointed a gun to his head and ended his life. Age was starting to catch up with him and his chronic health problems had made living unbearable. By all accounts he also sank into a deep depression when George W. Bush was reelected three months earlier. As despairing as he felt at the end of the Campaign of 1972, Election Day 2004 was the final nail in the coffin. The good Doctor was quite a perceptive guy. It's a fairly good bet that he saw the future all-too-clearly and wanted to cash in his chips - get out while the getting was good as it were. I won't stand in judgement of Hunter Thompson. I can't.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Dedicated to the late Hunter S Thompsons life and character this documentary film brings a good deal of unseen resources, image and video bites, into a single stream of gonzo consciousness kicking right onto your screen. Hunter lives again through and within this film, for the time it runs. If you want to get a better look into Hunter S Thompsons life, including his appearances on television in the early 1970's, 1980's and 1990's this is a great resource.

Excellent exposure also to Hunter S Thompsons key creative counterparts, such as Ralph Steadman with insight into how they knew the man. At times whilst watching this, it feels a little like Hunter is back with you to some degree. His legend lives on. Other interesting elements are well known politicians from conservative areas of American politics admitting they genuinely liked the man, despite his destruction he brought to the images they aspired to project into American politics.

If you like Hunter S Thompson this should be on your DVD shelf.
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